By David Jacobson | @positivecoachus
The last few games of a lacrosse season bring a gamut of emotions to youth and high school athletes. Playoff or tournament pressure may mount. Players’ sense of accomplishment and appetite for more wins can bring out their best and worst attitudes and behaviors.
Teams that are mathematically eliminated from postseason contention may feel relief as season's end approaches. Or, they may relish an opportunity to achieve and grow, now that they aren’t feeling the pressure of pursuing a championship.
Whether in the wake of a zero-win season, a narrow championship game loss, or even amid championship euphoria, the goal for every player, coach and parent should be that nobody wants the season to end. They should so enjoy the competition, camaraderie, learning, exercise and fun that they want the season to last forever.
But all good things do come to an end, and it's important that youth and high school lacrosse coaches and parents make sure the season has a positive ending regardless of scoreboard results. A season that ends with an emphasis on the joy of playing and competing will bring them back next year. We often say that determining who is a "good" coach should not be judged by the scoreboard, but by how many of the coach's players come back to play next season.
For the sake of lacrosse's continued growth as a sport and for the sake of youth players themselves, it's critical that they come back season after season to get all the fun, fitness, character development and life lessons possible. Positive Coaching can help ensure this with techniques that arm players with perspective throughout the season.
One specific Positive Coaching technique can help: introduction and reinforcement of a mastery approach to lacrosse. In PCA workshops, we discuss the ELM Tree of Mastery, which stands for Effort, Learning and Mistakes. As long as players give their best effort, learn along the way and realize that mistakes are OK, they will perform their best and feel like winners regardless of the outcome of a game.
"Mistakes are OK" often gives pause to our workshop attendees. Of course, we don't mean players should make mistakes. But fearing mistakes, which happens when a coach creates an environment where mistakes are not OK, will actually cause more mistakes. Fear also causes generally tentative play and an unwillingness to try new skills in a game situation.
Conversely, playing freely, experimenting with new skills and techniques, and helping teammates do the same helps each player develop. Therefore, individual and team performance improves—relative to potential, if not relative to an opponent.
At season’s end, coaches and parents still may need to help players process their team’s results, just as they do after each practice or game. As long as coaches and parents help players honestly assess themselves within the context of ELM, players will remain excited about their lacrosse futures.
That's what brings players back. At the end of every season, only one team can finish on top of the standings, but that does not mean that each and every player can't already be looking forward to next year.